As Training Manager for SK Chase I am fortunate enough to visit and stay in our clients’ amazing hotels and resorts.

Friends often ask me ‘which hotels are your favourites?’ This is such a hard question to answer. I have visited so many beautiful properties.  Is it down to the individuality of the hotel, the location, or the high specification?  Eighteen months into my job and having visited many hotels I think I’ve found my answer. It’s not down to glitz, glamour, or location; it’s down to Customer Service. My favourite hotels are the ones that have outstanding Customer Service.  This is what makes a hotel special.

It all starts with a warm, helpful smile and welcome on arrival. The detail can be seen from checking in, to room service, F & B teams, business teams to concierge teams.  Our clients work hard to create the most amazing service for their guests and should be congratulated.

Earlier in my career I lectured in Hospitality, where lessons often focussed on Customer Service.  My students would often think I was exaggerating the importance of it within industry.  I really hope they remember what I taught them!

I’d like to share with you an amazing Customer Service story that really sticks in my mind. Last summer, in a break from my usual holiday trash, I read ‘Scaling up Excellence’ by Hutton and Rao. The book shares stories of excellence in business.  One of their case studies is the story of the Taj Hotel in India during the dreadful terrorist attack in 2008 that killed 175 people.

During the attacks Taj employees reacted amazingly to protect their guests.  They went way beyond their duties by comforting guests, moving them through the hotel to safe areas, providing them with water and snacks, always putting guests’ needs before their own.  Staff calmly communicated internally with each other over what was happening, directing guests throughout the hotel to where they thought they would be safe. The General Manager of the Hotel even learnt that his wife and children had died that day but carried on helping guests.

There are so many brave stories but what inspired me most was that the employees were all cut off from each other and from their managers.  They had to carry on, take initiative and just do what they felt was ‘right’.  Kitchen staff formed human chains to shield guests; reservation teams on telephones stayed to man the phones to help communicate with the outside world.  Taj employees helped over 1500 guests escape.

The book asks what makes all Taj Employees so special?  What inspired them to react so nobly? They went far beyond any normal definition of Customer Service.

Taj group believes that their employees in India are ‘advocates of the customer’ rather than ‘ambassadors of the company’.  Their job is to look out for the customer first, last, and always.    They start by employing staff who have the mind-set that ‘the guest is god’.  They have often come from village communities that all respect their elders, consider others, have positive energy and are keen to prove themselves.  They look to employ people who are from humble families who need the income and are eager to make their families proud.  They say that if new employees have these values in life they will therefore have the motivation to embrace these within the organisation.

New employees are inducted for eighteen months. Every new trainee is taught to make their own decisions without supervision and told that anything that they do that puts the guest first will be supported by management.  New staff are especially encouraged to exhibit these values during what they refer to as ‘the forty to forty five moments of truth’ that happen each day (the typical number of interactions they have with guests).  New employees are surrounded by colleagues at all levels that also live this mind-set, this reinforces and creates an environment that puts guests first.

Taj staff did not see themselves as heroes during the terrorist attacks. They say that they did what they always do i.e. put guests first.  They had the skill to do exemplary work and ‘feel obligated to do the right things to accomplish some greater good’.

Customer Service is everything.  Values are everything.   I’ve experienced it first hand at our clients’ lovely hotels and it really does make them stand out from the others.